Mo’unga stars as Cru­saders ce­ment their place in fi­nal

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - SPORT -

FLY­HALF Richie Mo’unga was in­stru­men­tal as a dom­i­nant and clin­i­cal Cru­saders side over­whelmed the Hur­ri­canes 30-12 in an all-New Zealand Su­per Rugby semi-fi­nal here yes­ter­day.

The eight-times cham­pi­ons there­fore make it through to next week’s fi­nal in Christchurch, their 13th ti­tle-de­cider in 23 sea­sons of Su­per Rugby.

Mo’unga, who made his All Blacks Test de­but against France last month, scored a try, slot­ted 10 points with the boot and kept his side go­ing for­ward with su­perb game man­age­ment to en­sure the Cru­saders would host their first fi­nal in 10 years.

Out­side backs George Bridge, David Hav­ili and Bray­don En­nor also scored tries for the home side, who were vir­tu­ally im­preg­nable in de­fence, re­strict­ing the Hur­ri­canes to tries from wingers Ju­lian Savea and Ben Lam.

“The boys stepped up ... and that’s the way it has been the whole year. Guys have stepped up when we needed them to,” said Cru­saders cap­tain Sam White­lock.

“We knew it was go­ing to take a whole 80-minute per­for­mance and as it turned out we were spot on.”

The Cru­saders will go into the fi­nal on the back of a 14-game win­ning streak, hav­ing not tasted de­feat since suc­ces­sive losses to the Hur­ri­canes and High­landers in March.

The de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons have sim­ply smoth­ered their op­po­nents dur­ing that run cour­tesy of their abil­ity to con­trol the ball via their All Blacks-laden pack.

Yes­ter­day, they started with eight All Blacks for­wards on the pitch as well as two more on the bench and there was no mercy for their com­pa­tri­ots.

They smashed into con­tact, mak­ing ground on at­tack and driv­ing the Hur­ri­canes ball car­ri­ers back in the tackle.

While Mo’unga’s 15th-minute try was re­ward for their dom­i­nance of the early col­li­sions, the rest of the home side’s first-half points came from their abil­ity to pun­ish er­rors.

Winger Bridge’s try was the re­sult of Hur­ri­canes cen­tre Ngani Laumape hav­ing a kick charged down and con­ced­ing a penalty, while Mo’unga added two penal­ties within three min­utes, again from Hur­ri­canes mis­takes.

The Cru­saders held an 18-7 lead at the break and full­back Hav­ili ex­tended that four min­utes into the sec­ond half fol­low­ing another Hur­ri­canes er­ror, when Nehe Mil­ner-Skud­der sliced a kick on half­way that gave away pos­ses­sion and field po­si­tion.

The Hur­ri­canes dom­i­nated for long pe­ri­ods of the sec­ond half but were held out with smash­ing de­fence and re­place­ment winger En­nor’s try from Mo’unga’s cross kick with just over 10 min­utes left on the clock all but se­cured the vic­tory.

Lam crossed after the hooter for his com­pe­ti­tion-lead­ing 16th try of the sea­son but it was merely a con­so­la­tion.

“We were pretty dis­ap­pointed to fin­ish like that and it shows the qual­ity of the side they put out,” said Hur­ri­canes cap­tain Brad Shields, who is now leav­ing for English club Wasps.

“You have to build phases down the right end of the field and a cou­ple of times we let them off the hook pretty easy and they were able to pounce and turn it around.” – Reuters

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